Last week I was fortunate to be working for a client in Cape Town and got to see how health & safety is managed over there. Looking out of the window of their office I observed a (separate to my clients business) construction project that was way off the mark in terms of safety controls; in fact the scaffolding was very dubious. Even worse was the crane on top of a high rise office block with the counter balance weights precariously held in place above the main road below!!
Through a number of meetings we were able to understand that the principles of the UK Health & Safety at Work etc. Act seemed to underpin what was required by South African legislation. However the way that it was interpreted and applied was clearly very different than what we are used to.
Risk assessment does appear to be a requirement of sorts but looking at what I could see in a very public place, probably isn’t really understood in some cases. Very obvious limitations included what could be loosely referred to as PPE and I doubt there was much done on the training front.
My client could sense my concerns about what we could see out of their window but felt what I was seeing would be the norm for their country. I suppose it’s about what you are used to and the value that is placed upon people safety and wellbeing.
This made me think back to the UK and have a sense of pride that as health & safety professionals we really can make a difference to people lives. But it also made me question why in a well-informed country that all businesses are not always doing the right thing for their employees. Is it that, as in South Africa, they don’t know any better, or is it because profit comes first?
There is much to guide UK businesses but importantly knowing what that advice means to a business is a skill in itself. Unfortunately, too many just try to copy things across to their business that really don’t relate to how they work or what they do, but think a tick in the box is good enough. The reality is it’s not but they only find this out normally when it’s too late.
It’s not about what’s written down but is about how you do things that matters!